Napanee firefighters play Santa for toy and food drive

Left to right: Nathan Bruce, Dean Martin, Nick McTaggart, Ashley Arnold, and Chris Tyner of Greater Napanee Fire Department show off their Santa skills. Submitted photo.

You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why… Greater Napanee Fire is coming to town.

Ashley Arnold said he really felt like Santa Claus on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023, as he set to bagging toys for the Greater Napanee Fire Department’s Toy and Food Drive 2023. The annual event is literally “wrapping up” this week, providing toys and food baskets to 80 families with around 170 children to give them all a special Christmas.

Each food basket is designed to give the family enough food, including snacks for the two weeks kids are out of school.

“We know that schools run decent breakfast programs and different things,” Arnold said, “but unfortunately, it’s not always the same at home. So this helps provide for that.”

With prices on almost everything higher this year, the drive hasn’t received as much from the general public as they normally do, but Arnold said the fire department is extremely grateful for some key donors who have boosted the program this year: “Giant Tiger was a big one with with the groceries… Canadian Tire [offered] some toy sponsorships that have been just amazing for us. We’ve had Joyce’s Meat, which also took donations and will be donating some hamburger meat, as well. The Country Butcher is coming through for us with 30 turkeys… It just goes to show, when a community pulls together, what can be accomplished.”

Arnold explained that the department works with different family support agencies in town that provide lists of what each child is interested in.

“We separate all our donations… and then we set up a little store and do the ‘shopping'” he shared, noting that the firefighters carefully go through different options to select those a child has on their list.

“Barbie, stuffed animals, puzzles, and games — we’ll go through and try and pick that in an age-appropriate set for those children.”

Arnold pointed out that people often donate toys, but older kids don’t generally need toys, so financial donations often go toward buying teenage-appropriate gifts.

“We’ll go out and purchase things for those kids… whether it’s makeup or different things like that,” he said, noting that his 20-year-old daughter helps him pick gifts that teen girls will love.

But what drives home the need in the community for Arnold is what those older youths request — the reality is that often older kids will just ask for basics, he said.

“It’s pretty heart-wrenching when you see kids asking for things as simple as socks and underwear, pants, those kinds of things. And you know they’re the ones who could use a little extra,” he expressed.

Though the holiday heroes have stopped collecting toys and are picking up groceries on Wednesday, December 20, Arnold said they can always use last-minute donations of cash to help add treats to their baskets and make Christmas extra special.

Anyone wishing to donate money to the toy and food drive can drop it off at Greater Napanee Fire Station #1 at 66 Advance Avenue in Napanee, or call 613-856-2226 to arrange an e-transfer.

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